The cub of Grizzly 399, “America’s most famous grizzly bear,” was killed earlier this week by a car in Grand Teton National Park.
The cub, nicknamed “Snowy” for its whitish-blonde head, was the only cub born to Grizzly 399 this winter. And given the sow’s age (she turned 20 years old last winter) it could possibly be her last.
According to the Denver Post, Grizzly 399 (a “roadside bear” popular with tourists and photographers) previously made headlines when she effectively rose from the dead this past May; a Wyoming hunter claimed he illegally shot her months prior. Further, she emerged from hibernation with “Snowy” in tow, the latest in a long line of cubs (16, to be exact) born to Grizzly 399.
Grizzly 399 previously made headlines when she mauled a hiker in 2007. In all likelihood, she would have been put down, were it not for the testimony of the victim, who pleaded for the bear’s life, along with a number of environmental groups and wildlife advocates nationwide.
The accident happened overnight Monday, and was immediately greeted with sorrow and consternation by wildlife watchers nationwide, especially those living near Grand Teton National Park. From the Post:
Deby Dixon, a wildlife photographer, said she set out Monday morning to the spot on Pilgrim Creek Road where 399 can often be found. She hoped to take photos, but instead, she said, she happened upon what looked like an accident scene: The road was coned off, Dixon said, and members of the park’s volunteer Wildlife Brigade, which manages the roadside “wildlife jams” that occur when too many tourists stop to gawk at the animals, told her that the cub had become the victim of a hit-and-run.
Grizzly 399, Dixon said she was told, had dragged Snowy’s carcass to the side of the road.
Grizzly 399 rocketed to fame in 2006, according to National Geographic, when she was first spotted by the roadside, probably because it seemed safer than deeper in the wilderness, where male bears sometimes kill cubs. She was known for being particularly fertile, often giving birth to triplets.
Even in Grand Teton, though, life’s no picnic for baby bears. Vehicles have become a growing danger wildlife there and in other national parks, according to roadkill records released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility in 2013, and that includes grizzlies. Thomas Mangelsen, who spent two years photographing 399 and her progeny for his book “Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek,” told National Geographic last month that more than half of her cubs or descendants had already perished – felled by other bears, or by run-ins with people.
According to Todd Wilkinson, writing in National Geographic, Grizzly 399’s sudden reemergence with her uniquely patterned cub “only fueled her mystique and legend.” And according to the author, this is not the first cub of Grizzly 399 killed in her lifetime. From National Geographic:
Amazingly, 399 is responsible for 16 descendants (cubs and cubs of cubs) but equally as noteworthy is that over half have died in various kinds of negative encounters with humans. The causes include being illegally killed by a big game hunter, two being struck by cars, others destroyed for menacing cattle, or removed for venturing too close to human development.
Some biologists say that because 399 is now entering senescence, “Snowy” very well might be the last cub she ever has.
“Grizzly 399 has been one of the grand dames of grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem,” says nature photographer Thomas Mangelsen.
“It is heart-wrenching to think that her last cub seems to have been killed in a hit-and-run accident,” says Mangelsen, who featured 399 and extended clan in the recent book Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek. (This author [Wilkinson] wrote the book’s narrative.)
According to National Geographic, Grizzly 399 was reportedly seen acting “erratically” in Grand Teton’s Pilgrim Creek drainage. Park Service crews closed the road leading into Pilgrim Creek, for the safety of both the bear and visitors. Park officials added that another bear (a black bear) had been struck by a car around the same time as “Snowy.”
Wildlife advocates and environmental groups have taken the death of “Snowy” as an opportunity to plead once more against a proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to delist Yellowstone-area grizzly bears from the Endangered Species List. Many, including former researcher with the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team David Mattson, have protested any attempt to delist, saying the grizzly population has not been properly reestablished, and is not resilient enough to weather mortality-minded management.